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“Our focus is on giving customers a stellar service and top quality”

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Name:

David Barker

Role and company:

Founder & technical director of 4D Data Centres, a green colocation and connectivity supplier for SMEs in the South East.

Company turnover (and most recent ebitda/most relevant profitability metric): 

By the end of 2012, company turnover was £3m with an ebitda of £643,824.

Employee numbers:

25

Growth forecast for the next three years:

We’re looking to continue the rapid growth of the last five years. We made the Deloitte’s Tech Fast 50 in 2012 after previously being in the top 500. This will come through our colocation (a self-storage style service for critical IT equipment) services and, in particular, a new range of connectivity offerings we’re launching.

Our current forecast for turnover growth is a year-on-year figure of about 25 per cent and ebitda growth year-on-year of around 35 per cent.

In under 50 words,what makes your business distinctive in its marketplace:

Traditionally, data centres have been inhospitable places with low customer service. Our focus is on giving customers a stellar service and top quality, comfortable facilities that they can trust to store their most critical business data. Furthermore, unlike other providers we own our flagship data centre, 4D Surrey.

What’s the big vision for your business?

To be the leading independent and best provider of data centre services (from colocation through to connectivity and cloud) for SMEs in the UK.

Current level of international business, and future aspirations:

Most of our business is UK-based, although we are seeing more clients coming in from North America that are looking for a European point of presence. Our four locations in and near London are well placed. Over the next three years we’re going to build up this client base and expand our international business. However, I expect the majority of our clients will remain home-based due to the geographical nature of colocation.

Biggest career setback and what you learned from it:

The latest recession has been my hardest challenge. We went through investment and growth in late 2007 when we opened our first data centre just before the recession really hit. Although we were still finding new business, the timeframes of our financial forecasts were delayed as companies deferred or cancelled decisions on moving colocation provider, or taking extra rack space.

As running a data centre is much like an airline, if we don’t sell a rack (or seat) today then that revenue is lost forever. Therefore, our costs were a lot higher than we originally expected and there was less revenue coming in.

From this I learned to make sure that financial plans are regularly reviewed – we now revisit ours monthly. I now also model alternative scenarios that might just happen so that we’re prepared.

What makes you mad in business today?

At the moment, my bugbear is poor customer service from some of the companies I deal with. It still amazes me how so many get the basics wrong, from omitting simple updates in an order’s progress, through to failing to call back at an agreed time.

What will be the biggest change in your market in the next three years?

In general, the hosting industry is still very young. Commercial hosting and colocation has only been going for ten to 15 years, meaning that although there have been changes, it’s still a young sector. Many of the new businesses from ten years ago are going strong, although possibly without the growth that they expected.

I can see more consolidation going on in the hosting market over the next three years. I think a lot of the smaller hosting providers will either sell up or be squeezed out by the larger players. Meanwhile, SME hosting companies will need to operate within niche markets where they can add value to the basic hosting proposition (whether that’s through market knowledge, technical support or specialist software).

Can businesses in your sector/industry access the finance they need to grow? If not, what can be done to improve things?

Definitely. A lot of venture capital money and real estate investment is coming into the data centre market at the moment. Most of this is currently on the wholesale side of the industry (space upwards of 5,000 square feet), or as speculative property deals as opposed to retail colocation (where space is typically licensed on a “per rack per one year” basis, rather than being leased on a five years or more basis).

How would others describe your leadership style?

Hopefully as empowering, inspirational and honest, while still being fairly relaxed. I think I might need to do a survey to make sure.

Your biggest personal extravagance?

Snowboarding is my current passion. I got back into it in the last couple of years after a fairly long break while we were in the early stages of opening and running the data centre. I try to get away a couple of times a year and can often be found at the indoor snow domes during the weekends.

You’ve got two minutes with the prime minister. Tell him how best to set the UK’s independent, entrepreneurial businesses free to prosper:

Start with better access to finance for new businesses. While there might be plenty of capital available for new data centres at the moment, there is a lack of it for early stage technology companies in the UK. There are schemes in place for loan financing and crowdfunding, but there need to be more incubators, grant-backed seed funding – with the government taking a small equity stake – and preferential tax rates for fast growing business. There also needs to be a closer knit community between the venture capitalists and the entrepreneurs themselves where meetings can start to happen by chance rather than design.

This will help to encourage entrepreneurs in the UK rather than losing them to places like Silicon Valley. This is starting to happen with Silicon Roundabout in East London, but we still have too many entrepreneurs start in the UK through programmes like Seed Camp, before heading to the USA to get series A financing.  

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